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Somerset quarterback Reed Baillargeon shakes off a tackle attempt by Winneconne’s Justin Davis (21) as Baillargeon broke free for a first down in the second half of Friday’s game in Marshfield.

Somerset football team stopped in bid to reach third straight state championship game

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The pursuit of a third straight trip to the WIAA state football championships by the Somerset football team fell two points short.

The Spartans were defeated by the Winneconne Wolves 16-14 in the WIAA Division 4 state semifinal game played in Marshfield last Friday.

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The Spartans played a shaky first half on offense and special teams. It was only through exceptional play from the Spartan defense that Somerset had any hopes of a comeback in the second half.

The Spartans made an impressive comeback after trailing 9-0 at halftime. Two lengthy drives gave the Spartans a 14-9 lead with 8:10 remaining in the game.

The Spartans had difficulty stopping Winneconne’s passing game all night and that was most damaging in the Wolves’ final scoring drive.

Winneconne quickly drove 70 yards to regain the lead. The Wolves connected on passes of 31 and 13 yards, before quarterback Mitchel Fenrich found Peter Buyeske with a 27-yard pass for the deciding touchdown.

An excellent kick return by Bailey White and a penalty on the tackle gave the Spartans another chance to score, with the ball at the Winneconne 44. The Spartans had been unstoppable in the second half, until now. Winneconne stopped four Spartan running attempts, forcing Somerset to turn the ball over on downs. Winneconne then ran out the clock.

The damage done by the Spartans in the first half was too much to overcome. On the second play of the game, Somerset quarterback Adam Marty was hit as he attempted to pass. Winneconne recovered, returning the ball to the Spartan 30.

The Spartan defense stopped Winneconne from scoring, ending the drive at the Somerset 3-yard line. The Somerset offense again went nowhere and the Spartans were forced to punt. Winneconne’s Justin Davis, who forced Marty’s fumble, broke through to block Dalton Johnston’s punt. Somerset’s Austin Harty alertly dove on the ball in the end zone, resulting in a safety instead of a Winneconne touchdown.

Winneconne immediately threatened again, with Buyuske returning the ensuing kickoff to the Somerset 1-yard line. The Spartan defense rose to the challenge again, stopping the Wolves on four running plays.

The Spartan defense couldn’t hold off Winneconne forever. The Wolves hit a 42-yard pass to the Spartan 6-yard line early in the second quarter. Winneconne scored on the next play to raise its lead to 9-0.

Somerset’s offense was inept in the first half. The Spartans had one first down, which came on a 31-yard run by halfback Aaron Moore.

Somerset coach Bruce Larson said Winneconne knew that Spartan fullback Max Praschak had rushed for more than 200 yards in the past two games, so the Wolves’ defense was designed to take away the interior running game.

In the second half, the Spartans were able to get the ball outside on the running of quarterback Reed Baillargeon. The Spartans used up most of the third quarter on a 94-yard drive. Praschak scored on a 2-yard blast, with Dallas Johnson scoring on the two-point conversion to cut Winneconne’s lead to 9-8.

The momentum had clearly turned. The Spartan defense got a quick stop and the offense marched effectively on a 52-yard drive to take the lead. Baillargeon scored the go-ahead touchdown, using excellent second effort to break a tackle and stretch for the goal line.

The Spartans were hoping to become one of the rare teams that reached the state championship game for three years in a row. The Spartans won the state championship last year with a 35-33 overtime win against Big Foot. The year before, the Spartans lost the state title game in overtime.

Larson said this year’s seniors will be remembered for maintaining that consistent success.

“It was a great four years for the seniors. They got to play in a state semifinal game and two state finals,” Larson said.

The Spartans finish the season with an 11-2 record.

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